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Depression, hunger stalk tsunami survivors

October 20, 2005

By Bill Tarrant

LAMTEUNGOH, Indonesia (Reuters) – Putri’s baby is big.

At 8.8 lb, baby Angi is, in fact, huge by the natal
standards of Indonesia — all the more remarkable since her
mother has been living in a grim tsunami survivors’ camp
throughout her pregnancy.

Born September 23, Angi is the first known baby conceived
and born after the December 26th tsunami that killed more than
170,000 people and left half a million homeless in Indonesia’s
Aceh province on the tip of northern Sumatra.

Angi, who is being bottle-fed because her mother’s tsunami
rations do not give her the strength to breast-feed, owes her
robust health, at least in part, to a health clinic the
children’s aid group Plan International set up in her village.

Putri received vitamins, nutrient supplements and prenatal
care from the clinic during her pregnancy. A Plan-trained
midwife delivered Angi in the military-style barracks camp
Putri’s family shares with scores of others.

Plan says it has set up at least 50 primary care units in
tsunami-struck villages and distributed supplementary nutrient
packages to 160,000 children and pregnant women in Aceh.

One of the great successes of the tsunami relief effort was
that a feared second wave of deaths from diseases never
happened.

DEPRESSED AND ANEMIC

Groups such as Unicef, Save the Children, Oxfam and Plan
among others moved quickly to set up clear water and sanitation
systems in camps housing more than a million tsunami survivors
around the Indian Ocean rim.

Putri’s baby is a welcome addition to the fishing village
of Lamteungoh, where only 250 out of a population of around
3,000 survived the 10-yard high tsunami. As in so many other
villages, three to four times as many women and girls than men
were killed in Lamteungoh.

While baby Angi is fine, her parents are struggling.

“Most pregnant women here are anemic so they need vitamin
supplements,” said 27-year-old midwife, Dassy Handayani. “They
also need a lot of moral support. They get depressed about
raising their babies in tsunami camps.”

The tsunami took Putri’s eldest daughter, Arlisa Putri, 11.
But two other daughters, Surya Pertiwi, 6 and Sri Rejeki, 3,
survived.

Putri clings to a notion that Arlisa somehow is still
alive.

“I had a dream in the seventh month of my pregnancy that a
white man found her and took her back with him, a Canadian
named Michael. I want to believe this dream, but I’m not sure,”
she said.

Life in the camps is undoubtedly contributing to depression
spawned by tsunami trauma and loss of family members, homes and
village life, aid officials said.

“Most of the cases we’re treating are either gastric, upper
respiratory or headaches,” said doctor Mira of the
British-based Islamic Relief Agency.

“We have to do more research, but a lot of these cases seem
to be psychosomatic,” said Mira, who like many Indonesians uses
one name. “Most of the people are healthy but feel like they’re
sick.”

The new United Nations Recovery Coordinator for Aceh, Eric
Morris, said moving the 67,500 people still living in tents
into intermediate shelters is the biggest priority, going into
the rainy season.

“And probably conditions in some of those barracks are
deteriorating, as well,” Morris said in an interview.

FOOD RUNNING OUT?

The World Food Program (WFP) is feeding around a
half-million people in Indonesia alone, including nearly
100,000 still living in tattered tents.

But the minimum rations of rice, cooking oil and canned
fish distributed once a month to tsunami camps were never meant
to meet the full daily nutritional needs of recipients.

People in camps frequently complain that for one reason or
another they sometimes miss out on even that minimal dole.

“The WFP and NGOs have done an amazingly good job, but it
is a staple diet and people do need to diversify their diet,”
Morris said.

Indonesia’s tsunami reconstruction chief said he has
appealed to the WFP to keep the food distribution program
through to the end of next year to prevent malnutrition and
related diseases.

“But should the WFP board not approve the request, or the
international community not fund it, Aceh will go back to
facing a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions,” Kuntoro
Mangkusubroto, head of Aceh’s Reconstruction and Rehabilitation
Agency (BRR), said in an interview.

“There is a perception that the emergency conditions have
passed because we’re now in the reconstruction phase. This is
wrong. The problems are so great, the humanitarian needs are so
immense, that the emergency continues.”

More than 232,000 people were killed or left missing across
a dozen Indian Ocean nations after a 9.15 magnitude earthquake,
the strongest in four decades, unleashed the most devastating
tsunami on record.




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